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Stages of Change

Action: Implementing the Plan

Individuals in this stage of change put their plan into action. This stage typically involves making some form of public commitment to stop drinking in order to get external confirmation of the plan. If they have not done so already, individuals in this stage may enter counseling or some form of outpatient treatment, start to attend AA meetings or tell their family members and friends about their decision—or all of the above.

Making such public commitments not only helps people obtain the supports they need to recover from alcoholism, but it creates external monitors. People often find it very helpful to know that others are watching and cheering them on. What about the others who may secretly, or not so secretly, hope they will fail? For people who get sober and stay sober, one of the many pleasures is to disprove the negative predictions of others.

Nothing succeeds like success. A person who has implemented a good plan begins to see it work and experiences it working over time, making adjustments along the way. The many things that alcohol may have taken from the person begin to be restored, along with hope and self-confidence and continued determination not to drink.

Maintenance, Relapse and Recycling

The action stage normally takes three to six months to complete. Change requires building a new pattern of behavior over time. The real test of change is long-term sustained change over many years. This stage of successful change is called “maintenance.” In this stage, an alcohol-free life is becoming firmly established, and the threat of a return to old patterns becomes less intense and less frequent.

Because alcoholism is a chronic disease, the possibility of relapse is always present. Individuals may experience a strong temptation to drink and fail to cope with it successfully. Sometimes relaxing their guard or “testing” themselves begins a slide back. People at this stage of change are armed with a variety of relapse prevention skills. They know where to get the supports they need.

Alcoholics who relapse learn from the relapse. The experience of relapsing and returning to sobriety often strengthens a person’s determination to stay sober.


The ultimate goal in the change process is termination. At this stage, the alcoholic no longer finds that alcohol presents a temptation or threat; he has complete confidence that he can cope without fear of relapse.

Stages of Change

Mark S. Gold, MD

APA Reference
Gold, M. (2020). Stages of Change. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.